Tricks for Teaching Teen Numbers

Once students have a strong foundation of counting and identifying numbers to 10, teen numbers are the next big understanding for them in developing number sense. Teen numbers are especially tricky because they are the first numbers they encounter that have two digits. They also are the only numbers that break the pattern of being called first digit- second digit (for example 22 is twenty – two, but 12 is not ten-two, it’s twelve). So how do we support our students in their understanding of teen numbers?


teen numbers

Well first it is vital that you assess what children already know. This will help guide the activities and interventions you use with them. You should assess students on their number identification to twenty and counting of items to twenty. This assessment is from my Teen Number product from Teachers Pay Teachers. You can find other kindergarten assessments, including one number identification assessment from my 15 Kindergarten Assessment product!

Rote Counting

If students are unable to count to 20, your first step to helping them understand teen numbers is to be able to rote count. There are lots of fun activities you can do with students for this skill. One that I love to do is to use a dry erase dice and write teen numbers on it. Then we roll the dice and do a movement activity to that number, like jumping jacks or hops. I also love to make a teen-number large number-line and have students jump up and down while counting. Then I might start to take away numbers and have them continue to count forwards and backwards. Another activity is just to work on counting with them – check out this blog post for more information!

Whenever possible, add in the numerals for the numbers you are counting. Also, whenever you are counting forwards, always count backwards. Counting backwards is very hard for students, but it really helps with their understanding of number order.

Here are some of my favorite teen-number counting songs:

Jack Hartman:

Harry Kindergarten:

Teen Number ID

If students are struggling with identifying the teen numbers, but can count to 20, I have several activities that I like to do with them. They can be used to practice receptive identifying and expressive identification (can they find the number if I say it versus can they say the number correctly if they see it). I love to pay “I Spy,” “Cover It,” and “Number Jump” where I call out a number and they have to find it, or I will show them a card with the number and they have to say the number before they can cover up the number.  You could also play “Go Fish” or “Memory” with number cards. Another fun one is to put out number cards and then have students try and hit the number you call out with a fly swatter.

When playing these games, give students the chance to say the number each time to help connect the name of the number to the written form.

Grab this free teen number game here!

Teen Number Songs!

Songs, movements, and technology are also great ways to practice identifying teen numbers! These are four of my favorites!

Jack Hartmann:

Smartboard/website game:

Teen Number Order

If students can identify most of the teen numbers but can’t count correctly every time to 20, then you need to work on number order. Often children who struggle with identification also need to work on number order, so I usually mix these two activities together whenever possible.

teen numbers

I love to play hide and seek with my students. To play hide and seek, I give my students a set of teen number cards and have them put them in number order. This is great practice by itself, but they love to extend it further. I ask them to close their eyes and turn around and then I hide one (sometimes two!) number cards and they have to figure out which number is missing. When they first start playing, they often have to count up to see which one is missing, and that is fine! As they get better at their understanding of number order, they will be able to just look at the gap and know which number is missing.

I also love to give my students number puzzles where they have to put the puzzle in order by looking at the numbers on the bottom. You could either print on white paper and have the students color in and cut out the puzzle and then put it back together again, or you could have it pre-printed and cut.

Place value understandings

After students can identify teen numbers and count them, then they need to have a basic understanding that teen numbers are made up of a group of ten and then some more. Students can do activities to break apart teen numbers into tens and some more, like these decomposing teen numbers games from my Beginning Place Value Unit from Teachers Pay Teachers and this Turkey Teen Number Book.When working with teen numbers in this stage, always include images or tools with ten frames. Ten frames are so helpful to quickly see and understand that teen numbers are a full group of ten and some more. This will greatly help students understanding the place value of larger two-digit numbers later on in the year. There is a great online resource from Dreambox that is free for teachers to work on quickly seeing numbers 1-20 on ten frames.

Also, check out these Harry Kindergarten songs to help with this understanding of tens and ones.


Teen numbers are such an important understanding for students, but when teaching the skill we need to break it up into rote counting, number identification, number order, and place value understandings. We need activities to support students in each stage of their understanding about teen numbers.

All of the activities you see here come from my teen number product from Teachers Pay Teachers!


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